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Are Scientists Taking Orders from Pat Robertson?

A Salon.com essay accuses the Intelligent Design movement of being primarily an arm of conservative Republicans and the religious right. Published in Christianity Today

Faithful readers of Books & Culture may recall Larry Arnhart's essay on Edward Wilson's Consilience [November/December 1999], in which Arnhart — who is professor of political science at Northern Illinois University and author of Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature — argued for the compatibility of Darwinian and Christian perspectives. Last week the online magazine Salon posted a piece by Arnhart under the heading "Assault on Evolution: The religious right takes its best shot at Darwin with 'intelligent design' theory."

Arnhart provides an overview and critique of the ID movement, with attention to recent work by William Dembski and Jonathan Wells, and concludes much as he did in his Books & Culture piece. At some points Arnhart's criticism is persuasive — as when, for example, along with many other critics, he notes ID's failure so far to mount any sort of research program that would offer alternatives to Darwinian orthodoxy. Some criticisms misfire. For example, having summarized Dembski's argument about analogies between everyday uses of "the design inference" (when we assess whether or not an event has occurred as a result of purposeful intent) and evidence for a "cosmic designer," Arnhart faults Dembski for not specifying the precise manner in which the Designer has worked. But that is simply not Dembski's brief, and his argument must be assessed on other grounds.

Much of this — much of Arnhart's piece — will of course sound familiar to readers who have been following the ID debate in the pages of B&C and elsewhere. But one aspect of Arnhart's treatment of this debate in the Salon piece stands out: the way in which he frames ID as an arm of the "religious right." So for example he makes much of the fact that the Discovery Institute, which underwrites most of the work of the ID movement, is "led by conservative Republicans." These are people, he warns, who see themselves as engaged in "something like a holy war" against the "corrosive materialism and atheism of modern scientific naturalism."

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